BELFAST, Maine — In seven years of raising alpacas in Belfast, farmer Ben Cowan of the Blue Alpaca Ranch has never seen it so dry for so long.
“Everytime I hear the well pump go on, I get nervous,” he said. “We’re hoping for some rain, big time, just to relieve that stress.”
Cowan is definitely not alone in that hope. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the entire state of Maine is experiencing drought conditions. It’s most acute in parts of Aroostook, York and Cumberland counties, which are in extreme drought, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Drought Monitor. But the rest of the state is also experiencing moderate to severe drought, and that has led to such pervasive problems as wells running dry, algae blooms on ponds and lakes and more.
Farmers have been especially challenged during this dry summer. The state’s iconic wild blueberry crop could wind up being just half of its five year 84 million pound average, and potatoes and hay are among the other important agricultural crops affected.
At the Springdale Farm in Waldo, which raises Jersey and Guernsey cows, the lack of rain this summer has been a problem.
“It’s really affected our hay crops and our pastures,” Eben Miller, the partner of farm manager Carrie Whitcomb, said Saturday at the United Farmers Market of Maine in Belfast.
The farm has land set up for rotational grazing, and normally, the farmers grow enough hay to feed all their animals, with enough left over to sell in the spring. This year, though, they’ve had to purchase silage, and are hoping that grass will still have a chance to grow in some newly-seeded fields.
“We’re just waiting for rain to come,” Miller said.
At Willow Lane Farm in Harmony, which raises grass-fed Highland Scottish cattle, farmer Lou Ann Magoon has the same concerns.
“The problem is our hayfields,” she said.
Most years, they get two crops of hay off their fields, but this year the second crop of hay is very poor.
“It means we’ll be buying more feed,” she said. “And we have a new field we just planted with new grass seed. We’re pretty frustrated — we need rain.”
Ben Rooney from Wild Folk Farm in Benton said that the combination of the drought with last week’s cold snap has caused him to lose hundreds of pounds of rice.
“The rice just stopped growing,” he said. “We probably lost a third of the crop.”
Laura McLaughlin of Stubborn Ox Farm in Brooks, who grows vegetables, is looking into ways to increase her farm’s ability to irrigate crops. She fears that climate change will mean that droughts will become more common.
“I think it’s going to be more and more normal,” she said. “It’s scary to think about.”